Review: Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak Academy (Future, Despair, and Hope arcs)

Foreword

The Danganronpa series builds on itself.  That is, the second game will spoil the first game, the third game will spoil both the first and second game…and so on.  Danganronpa 3 (not the upcoming game New Danganronpa V3, confusion I’m sure will happen from time to time) works off many pieces of preceding material.  It requires knowledge from Danganronpa (PSP, Vita, Steam, and previously animated) and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (PSP, Vita, Steam) in order to make a decent amount of sense.  You would also find knowledge of Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (Vita) and Danganronpa Zero (light novel) helpful though not entirely required.

2:23 PM- "Girls With Cup Noodles On Their Heads - girlswithcupnoodlesontheirheads.com

If you haven’t read the foreword above – do it now. This is the least spoiler heavy thing for the prequel games in the entire review. Last warning.

If you are, for whatever reason, reading this review without knowledge of the franchise, here’s the basic introduction: the Danganronpa franchise is a fairly new set of games.  The “core” games (Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2) are probably best described as a cross between Phoenix Wright and Persona.  In both games, you’re in control of a mostly bland, run of the mill Japanese protagonist.  He’s all excited to enter this school known as “Hope’s Peak Academy”, a high school where the best students from around the country flock.  They are the best in their field and are given ceremonious titles of “Super High School Level” (translated as “Ultimate”).  For an obvious example, the Super High School Level Photographer is excellent at taking photographs.  However, the protagonist loses consciousness upon entering the school and find themselves at the mercy of a small bear named Monokuma.

Monokuma has trapped the entirety of their class, about 16 in total, within a school (on an island in the second game) and will not release them without committing a “perfect murder”.  A perfect murder entails the murder of a classmate which, after investigation and debate, confuses the jury of the surviving class enough that they cannot identify the murderer.  Basically, it’s trial by a jury of whomever is alive and the winner goes free if the jury determines the murderer incorrectly.  Yes, that’s a lot of terminology.  No, I can’t think of a better way to word it.  No, you actually don’t need to know any of this for Danganronpa 3 but you will need to understand that this happened.

Incidentally, committing a perfect murder kills the rest of your class once you go free.  Also, Monokuma executes the murderer (in typically humorous and ironic fashion) if the class correctly identifies the murderer.  Monokuma also puts up temptations such as releasing your darkest secrets or starving the class unless a murder occurs.

To make a long story short, the class eventually catches the masterminds in each game…and the survivors leave their respective hellholes.

The outside world fared no better.  Turns out they lost their memories of their last few years.  The world absolutely collapsed in that time.  As in, all of society is pretty much gone and succumbed to the notion of despair; people fight each other and regress to a purely chaotic state.  It’s basically what you would imagine if YouTube comment sections were let loose on the world.  A group known as the Future Foundation steps up in the absence of any real government and acts to fight the despair that plagues the world to restore it to a better state than anarchy on earth.

The first game’s mastermind, Junko Enoshima, orchestrated this downfall by revealing the corruption of Hope’s Peak; the mass expenditures of the school on the “cultivation of hope” resulted in creating a perfect human named Izuru Kamakura.  Who she claimed then proceeded to murder a bunch of other students.  This outrage eventually sparked the downfall of the world.

Enoshima’s death at the end of the first game sparks the slow defeat of this despair movement.  The Future Foundation begins making strides forward as the despair movement loses steam without its leader.  They eventually capture 16 students from a single class at Hope’s Peak Enoshima specifically trained to orchestrate her will.  The Future Foundation plans to execute them but Makoto Naegi, the first game’s protagonist, interferes and puts them into a virtual reality program with the hope of rehabilitating the students.  Few survive the experience due to interference by a virtual version of Enoshima (we’re supposed to just roll with the idea of an AI version of her).  Another long story short, the class defeats her once again and she claims to give up at this point.

Background

Time to finally get to the actual description of this anime.

Don't blame me...there's just a lot of backstory.

Don’t blame me.  There’s a lot of backstory.

Danganronpa 3 is the conclusion to the Hope’s Peak narrative in the Danganronpa franchise.  That is to say that all the events up until now will conclude with this anime and New Danganronpa V3 marks a whole new continuity.  The anime got direct supervision from Kazutaka Kodaka, the series’ original creator.  So all this reads as “we’re dead serious about ending the narrative this time”.  Back into the fold is Seiji Kishi, director of the fairly contested original Danganronpa animation, again taking the directorial role.

The Danganronpa 3 series takes an unusual idea and, instead of a single series of 26 episodes, splits their narrative into two components: a “Future” arc and a “Despair” arc.  They fully intend you to watch them simultaneously as each series supports the other one.  The correct viewing order is: Future arc episode 1, Despair arc episode 1, Future arc episode 2, Despair arc episode 2.  Additionally, the production officially created a 3rd series to replace the 12th episode of Despair arc, naming it the “Hope” arc.  Obviously the Hope arc is the grand finale to the series.

So, summary of this is basically that the series takes a lot of the crew from the visual novel games and transitions them over for a product of a different element.  The creation is exactly what the Danganronpa game creators want.

Note: The sections from here on out will always start with the Future arc, followed by the Despair arc.  Any supplementary notes for the Hope arc are at the end of each section due to it being a finale more than a series.

Story

FUTURE ARC

The Future arc follows the events of Danganronpa 2.  The Future Foundation is understandably upset that Makoto Naegi interfered on what are effectively war criminals.  The series goes explicitly out of its way to define them as million person killers.  Anyways, they call him in to their headquarters…a location supposedly off any map.  Almost all branch heads (previous alumni of Hope’s Peak) come back to evaluate the situation.  Actually, it’s more of a kangaroo court as most of they want his head but still…

Well, you can’t collect this many valuable players for an organization at war without attracting attention.  The entire security of the structure becomes comprised (resulting in the loss of all the security staff) and sleeping gas knocks out the branch leaders, Naegi, and his friends (this time being Kyoko Kirigiri and Aoi Asahina).

They awake to find they are in another game: Monokuma Hunter.  Probably the worst game of Mafia you’ll ever hear about.  Much like in the Danganronpa games, there are many rules to it so I’ll just simply list them here:

  • Each “player” in this game has a bracelet on.  It will inject a sleeping agent when the time listed on the bracelet hits 0:00.  This time is the same for each person.
  • A player designated as the “attacker” wakes up early and will kill another person. The rest of the players awaken a while later.
  • The game ends when no person dies during this “sleeping” phase.
  • Every “player” has a specific instruction known as the NG Code.  Violating this rule will result in death.

Basically, most of the Future Foundation suspects Naegi as the creator of this game and want to kill him so the game ends.  A small splinter group of branch heads come to his defence however; all hell breaks loose as these sides start coming to blows.  Meanwhile, a couple other branch heads use this time to settle scores with each other.

Now, here’s the thing about the Future arc: what drives it very much depends on the episode.  You get about two episodes where you follow Naegi and this group, then one where you watch Tengan, then one with Kimura, then another with Naegi.  Then you go into a side adventure with the cast from Ultimate Despair Girls.  Only after that, over half the series, do you finally settle into a fairly consistent cast.  This is a major stumbling block if you aren’t capable of familiarizing yourself with characters real quickly.  All levels of design do assist with this process though; Danganronpa characters are exaggerations.  They are caricatures…stereotypes so extreme it’s difficult to confuse one character for another.  I sometimes found myself struggling to remember names but never did I struggle to recall their personality or their narrative to date.  It’s quite an impressive feat when there are 12 new characters to remember and only 24 total episodes in both Future, Despair, and Hope arcs.

But outside that, a unifying factor in the writing is its tension.  The series will continually not let you go.  It changes quickly and cause major changes within the narrative.  This is entirely by design: Kodaka stated he wanted a series by which each episode surprises.  And it does not fail to deliver on this front.  Watching this series will leave the viewer on the edge of their seat in anticipation of the next event.  There are many parallels to the design of the Danganronpa games as the game will find your expectations and turn them on their head.  This nature of unpredictability makes each episode exciting.

Of course, this factor in addition to a fairly bloated cast early on means that there end up being major streaks of slow and plodding pace.  Major events have built up and the short time of most events mean that they get separated by longer than normal reprieves.  So those looking for wall to wall excitement and pure pulse pounding action for each second might need to go somewhere else.  Action sometimes happens but it’ll happen in spurts.

One aspect you’ll need to wrap your head around is the fairly scattered nature of the Future arc; this side is extremely dark to start off.  Many characters will receive conflicted love or just outright hatred.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say the most likeable characters initially are pretty much the returning cast from the original Danganronpa game.  This in and of itself isn’t a major issue but makes a major writing hurdle.  You see, in order for you to care about the deaths of characters, the series has to make you go from “I don’t really like this person” to forming emotional attachment.  And in order to do that, the characters need screen time.  this is what causes much of the rocky pacing above: the series has to spend time with each individual character for just enough time to make you care.  Then they kill them.  It almost becomes a point when you can say that focus on a character inadvertently raises their likelihood of dying.  It makes a disjointed narrative early on and eats up a lot of time.  The writing tries to get around this by using the Despair arc as well (more on that below), but it’s still a little difficult to wrap your head around.

SHSL Weedman

And then you have to deal with Hagakure, who seemingly exists to let you know he exists.

Returning from the game can also create a slight shock as well.  The comedy in Future arc is much less than the original games.  Whereas the games have this:

It’s much harder to find fun and laughter in the Future arc of Danganronpa 3 by comparison.  In fact, this is probably one of the largest shifts in tone.  Danganronpa was a mix of serious and humorous.  Some of the most serious of events would tone down the humour but characters such as Hagakure (and to a degree, Fukawa) would lighting the situation.  Danganronpa 2 often brought relief with Souda and Owari.  Or Ibuki earlier on.  Especially Ibuki.  This time?  There’s much, much less of that.  Your comedic character literally gets locked out of the story and nobody inside really plays the comedy relief.  Sure, you’ll still get cases where Asahina completely misreads the situation or Kirigiri gives crazy lines with absolute deadpan expression but it just doesn’t happen with any level of consistency.  And this provides a fairly oppressive feeling if you really enjoyed this lighter side of high school kids murdering each other.

Though on the other side of things, we do get to see this.

Though on the other side of things, we do get to see this.

So I guess the best way I can summarize the Future arc is that it is very much driven by its need to conclude the Danganronpa franchise.  Well, the part that pertains to Hope’s Peak that is.  This side of the narrative has some amazing aspects to it and it’ll leave you intrigued every step of the way should you opt to join the ride.  But just be aware that this ride also is a bit of a genre shift from the original Danganronpa games.  It’s less fun and more business.  And the focus is pretty blurred early on since they don’t get the option of using Free Time Events to characterize everyone through optional events.

One final note – The end of the Future arc (heading into the Hope arc) starts going off the rails logically.  The actual plan itself starts to make less and less sense the more you think about it even if you account for the in-series hints.  It’s much at the level of “how does this make sense” of recent superhero films (villains in Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War have similarly impossible to understand logic for accomplishing their goal).  Which is to say not really all that good.  Though Danganronpa never really was a stickler for continuity.

 

DESPAIR ARC

Now, the Despair arc takes a different course of events.  It focuses on one character from the Future arc, Chisa Yukizome, as she becomes the teacher for the 77th Class at Hope’s Peak.  This class eventually becomes the SHSL Despair listed above.  The one Naegi eventually shelters from the Future Foundation.  It leads you through the course of events which culminate to create the Danganronpa universe as we recognize it.  Which means it’s on a one way course to despair and terror.

Basically this is what I assume I'd get going in.

Basically this is what I assume I’d get going in.

Or at least it would seem that way.  It actually starts off much more lighthearted than this.  In fact, the first couple episodes almost feel like they’re out of a wacky slice-of-life series where the teacher turns a bunch of eccentric students into a ragtag group of friends.  I mean, the jokes come quick and often initially.  And it doesn’t really entirely shift out of this until episode 6 or so (though you do get the odd episode here or there with a much more cold and bleak tone).  This create a bit of a tone problem as it contrasts so greatly with the Future arc that it’s hard to imagine these two series really needing integrated viewing.

The series at this point shifts dramatically.  You’ll spot it too.  The series, as mentioned above, deals with the descent of the 77th class into becoming the murderers which Naegi protected in Future.  And Enoshima previously claimed she brought them into despair herself.  So it should not surprise you when Enoshima takes over the show.

>:D

She even declares it the B-side.

It’s at this point when the entire series becomes that level of grey and depressing that you really do expect out of an anime following the demise of civilization as we know it.  You then follow the machinations of Enoshima and her sister Mukuro Ikusaba as Enoshima plots to destroy the world.  It basically becomes the Junko Enoshima show where everyone not entirely close to her gets a line or two just to let you know that they exist.

One massive waste of potential in the Despair arc stems from the that the Despair arc never really plays out like its own anime.  It splits is focus on many tasks for the sake of supporting other media.  Multiple episode use their time to characterize the cast of the Future arc.  A viewing of the Despair arc on its own would result in characters appearing and disappearing without reason.  The biggest offender is episode 4 where Kimura, Andou, and Izayoi from the Future arc appear without reason and then disappear, never heard from again.  It gets even worse as much of the series gets writing purely for the sake of filling holes in other media.  Episode 3 purely focuses on the events of the Twilight Syndrome game in Danganronpa 2.  If you haven’t played the game, basically the minigame presents a series of events it portrays as factual.  The events are nearly entirely unrelated to the events in Despair arc but get thrown in to ensure that it completes the narrative posed in Danganronpa 2.  And while these two are the most glaring issues, they’re hardly the entire list.

The primary flaw this presents is the drain from the actual Despair arc, which becomes more and more of a split.  It takes time to explain events for Danganronpa, Danganronpa 2, and characterize for the Future arc.  Only after all that does it get to its own story of how Enoshima brings about society’s downfall.  Oh, and occasionally throw in the 77th class because they become closely tied to it all.  But this scattered approach never lets anything really pick up steam until the plot lines of Enoshima and the 77th class actually converge.  Even then, the entire series of events goes through real quick.  And that’s really ultimately the issue: the Despair arc already sits at a fairly low 11 episodes.  With that, there are at least 19 characters you’d want to recognize as critical to the primary storytelling of succumbing to despair.  You’re already at a low time count for each character.  Then add on top of that the burden of tying together other events and you’re in a place where story flies fast and many events get minimal time.

Contrasting with Future arc, there’s a lot more humour here.  Again, the first two episodes are pretty chalked full of fun and amusement.  It’s much more of the “daily life” of the Danganronpa games and treats you to a little levity from the oppressive Future arc.  But that too slowly vanishes as Enoshima takes over.  And soon enough, you’re laughing at blackmail.

I would kill for a Nantendo Game Girl.

To be absolutely fair, we were laughing at Nantendo before so maybe we’re just not healthy to begin with.

And, ultimately, there ends up being no real resolution due to this.  The aim of Despair arc is filling holes and, while it does that just fine, the cohesive narrative doesn’t feel all that strong.  Enoshima really never suffers a setback and seemingly executes her plan flawlessly.  Which is fine if you’re a protagonist for a shonen type series.  You can get away with that for a full season there if you don’t mind being a little generic.  But for a villain?  Not so much.

Yes, we get to find out about the Twilight Syndrome events, the personality of Izuru Kamakura, the first mutual killing game, and exactly how Enoshima orchestrated everything.  But they’re all foregone conclusions and almost entirely end up feeling like loosely associated OVAs more than a full season.

That said, the Despair arc isn’t without its redeeming factors.  The season creates some extremely beautiful and unsettling moments.  It has its comedy and likely will make you laugh.  It does everything it sets out for.  It’s just that the cohesion of these events themselves really don’t provide much on their own.  They all become parts of a machine greater than the season.  This is part of why I review the series as a whole as oppose to Future and Despair arcs separately…the Despair arc never set out as a standalone piece.  It’s a cog and deserves treatment as such.

 

HOPE ARC

The series unfortunately ends off on a less than stellar note.  The episode becomes pure, unadulterated fan service.  It feels like the series took notes on what fans wanted to have happen and just threw it all together.  It’s unfortunate as it really works reasonably right up until the series reveals its actual villain.  Then things start falling apart.  Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t enough to undo all the good the series provides.  It just feels like a fanfiction series by the end as nothing’s explained and it really feels like the writers let the inmates run the asylum at the end (a crazy notion, of course, but it still has that sort of feeling by the end).   And it’s too bad since the continuity deserves a better send off than this.

 

Characters

FUTURE ARC

So…um…there’s a lot of characters to start.  Let’s just put it that way.  My count ended around 20 characters.  Realistically though, you’ll end up only really needing to know about 10 or so as many die quickly or revolve around a single episode.

Really though, Kimura best girl.

…Wait.  Which storyline were you again?

Your focus is almost split evenly amongst the entire cast early on.  This creates some pretty heavy bloating and the cast drops like flies early on.  This initial grouping starts getting smaller and focusing only on a select group of key individuals.  The survivors of the first Danganronpa game (Makoto Naegi, Kyoko Kirigiri, and Aoi Asahina) get the most attention.  After that comes the contrasting antagonist Kyosuke Munakata.  The series comes down heavily on contrasting Munakata and Naegi.  The parallels result in a great deal of on-the-nose characterization of the two as characters comment how similar the two are.

One aspect that Danganronpa series specializes in is emotional torque…specifically, loss.  It builds up characters that you’ll find sympathy in…only for you to see them mercilessly cut down.  Inside the game world, this comes about via letting you pick your favourite character and spend time with them.  The Future arc seeks the same emotion out by days in the spotlight.  The series will spend time characterizing a new personality, sometimes spilling over into Despair arc to find the additional time, to gain humanizing traits.  It then puts them on death watch and makes them open game for becoming the next victim in hopes of picking enough love to become an actual loss to the audience.  Death and the loss drives much of the Danganronpa series and the Future arc continues the tradition.

To that end, the characters are not the most deep.  As mentioned before, they’re often caricatures.  They aren’t extremely deep or more than a couple of notes.  The shy girl is shy and the nice guy is still nice.  But their stories become sympathetic and their face in these circumstance admirable.  So you come to love the one side of them which does that.  It’s just enough time and space to cause the loss the series so much seeks out.  And I think that’s the best way to describe most characters in the series: most of them are simple.  Most don’t have the biggest stories but ones you’ll find attachment.  Then you’ll lose them and you’ll get hurt.  And this becomes the game’s primary usage for characters: to ship off for death.

Now, that isn’t to say some characters aren’t actually fairly interesting.  There are a couple of them which get tender love and care from the writers.  They grow, they have nuanced thought.  The series goes out of its way to show you that nuanced though.  But it’s just most of them get written for emotional processing and come off just interesting enough to pull this off.  To that end, few are truly dynamic throughout the narrative.

 

DESPAIR ARC

The majority of screen time goes to Chisa Yukizome and Junko Enoshima.  I’m quite serious on this.  In a narrative splitting time to explain the backstory to the Danganronpa 2 game, the 77th class has very little screen time after a while.

What's up with Nidai's face by the way?

I know, I’m sad about it too.

A major issue on this side of the series is its impossible task of splitting time between the 18 important characters.  And yes, I do mean 18.  Chiaki Nanami makes an appearance.  There are only about 4 hours of screen time for the entire Despair arc.  It is virtually impossible to provide satisfying characterization to all of them as well as progress anything resembling a plot.  It also doesn’t get any chance to thin the cast ala Future arc.  It gets stuck with a bloated cast and no time to give the spotlight to each of the important individuals…so the entire cast from Danangronpa 2 get the short end.  And then so does Yukizome halfway through the series as the plot picks up faster and faster.

Another strike against the Despair side is a lack of utilizing deep or interesting characters.  Again, the writers give one or two characters get a lot of care and love.  Problem is that none of them are really the main characters.  Enoshima is…well…Enoshima still.  She’s goofy, quirky, and doesn’t exactly sound like an insane sociopath until she talks about despair (in which case she becomes the more obsessive person we all recognize).  But you ultimately learn nothing really new or interesting about her, her personality, or her goals.  Now, a more charitable look at it (which I prefer more) would claim that Despair arc shows Enoshima as more of an analyst than an out-and-out genius.  But still…that’s half a series and pretty much all you get out of her.

What...what do I even say?

Actually, you also get this.  The goofiest eyes I can recall.  All intentional too.

Yukizome gets a bit of characterization and time early on.  As I’m sure you’re tired of hearing now, this basically goes to the wayside as Enoshima’s plans become more and more central to the narrative.  But this thematic change does ultimately change much of the narrative focus and you can see the effects in many aspects.  Yukizome basically becomes a supporting cast member in the Despair Arc…which focused on her pretty much from the first episode on.

Ultimately, much of the cast as presented in Despair arc are walking pieces of scenery.  I joke earlier, but I got the feeling by the end of the arc that the 77th class’ entire role was “show up, say a line to ensure that people are aware you exist”.  Yukizome becomes much less important driving the narrative’s as time goes on and it practically feels like the Junko Enoshima show.  And, to some discomfort, Junko Enoshima doesn’t really become that much more interesting a character due to this.

That doesn’t take away from the good points: there are legitimately good scenes for making you care about the characters.  The writers appear capable of such tasks.  It’s just that they chose to not make it a primary focus over explaining the vast series of events they wanted covered before they leave the Hope’s Peak narrative behind.

 

Animation

First: Future arc and Despair arc have a slight difference in colour choices.  Future arc does away with the series’ traditional pink blood.  It seems they have done away with the ratings issue for that season.

Does that mean the humble strawberry is red once again?

Meanwhile, the Despair arc opts to remain in pink blood.

I take it all back - Ikusaba still best girl.

Danganronpa‘s first animation got treatment from Lerche.  It…didn’t go so well.  The series got extremely poor animation at points and off-model imagery turned up frequently enough to cause distraction.  So you can imagine the trepidation when we found out Lerche animated Danganronpa 3 as well.

Kimura still best girl.

The best way to describe Danganronpa 3‘s animation on either end is…”inconsistent”.  Actually, that’s not really the best way.  The animation quality is inconsistent.  The animation choices themselves work out pretty nicely.

The palettes are absolutely perfect for what the series need.  Darker tones, akin to what you’ll recognize from the first Danganronpa game, fill up the Future arc.  Outside hair colour, you don’t get much outside the neutral tones.  Looking at my collection of images, I’d hazard a guess that dark blues, dull reds, and brown cover most of the spectrum.  This creates a fairly oppressive, darker environment.  Which is pretty much an accurate summation of Future arc…a narrative some claim is so depressing and unlikable that they will use the words “I don’t care what happens to these people”.  It meshes well with this oppressive and bleak atmosphere.

Also, lol at Andou running.

This is not one of the bleaker moments.  Also, would it kill them to add more lights next time?

Conversely, the Despair arc utilizes palettes to dictate the “feel” of the episode.  You’ll notice duller palettes akin to Future arc coming out when the narratives gets darker and less fun.  However, early episodes will use bright shades similar to Danganronpa 2.  These episodes carry a level of levity and the shades add to it.

dedicated-gaming

Of course, these are just the choices.  Again, the animation is inconsistent.  You’ll have some extremely beautiful sequences where Lerche obviously put tonnes of care.  These signature sequences have a calibre to them that matches the intensity of the scene.  And then there are entire stretches and indeed entire episodes where animation quality apparently goes downhill.

Andou worst girl.

On one end, you get this.

And the other end, this.

And the other end, this.

One final issue you’ll find is “same face syndrome”.  Many characters share the same generic “anime face” look that many series struggle with.  You’ll probably most notice this lack of detail in the face between Yukizome and Asahina who pretty much look the same outside their hair and eye colour.  And clothing obviously.  But it still expresses a lack of detail.  Humorously, this actually worked out quite well for those watching the episodes as they aired as it fuels many different forms of theories.

Hope arc addition – I can’t help but say that things don’t mesh well in the Hope arc.  The specific mix of character and colour choices just don’t work for me.  I can’t say much without ruining things or going into details but suffice to say that things get a bit strange here.

Sound/Music/Voice Actors

The first Danganronpa anime borrowed quite heavily from the game.  Danganronpa 3 is no exception and follows back to the same well.  Expect many call backs to the game’s soundtrack used at times you’d absolutely expect them to pop up.

This isn’t really a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination.  The Danganronpa franchise has some excellent in-game music and typically utilize a more uptempo feel (though you’ll also get the slower, chime heavy pieces as well).  They do show up a little less frequently than I’d like but do set the tone well enough.  It feels more like a fan service more than anything else…a way to get the viewer to go “I remember that!”.  It’s enough to get you from scene to scene without realizing there’s a void in the dialogue.

Future arc and Despair arc use different openings and closings.  Future arc opens with Dead or lie by Maon Kurosaki (featuring TRUSTRICK).  The ending is Recall THE END by TRUSTRICK.  These two pieces work out quite well, fitting the tone of the arc quite well.  Dead or lie features a strong mix of fast pace and mix of instruments.  It doesn’t slow down once it speeds up its pace and does a good job fitting the hectic and chaotic pace that the Monokuma Hunter game would ultimately introduce.  Its animation doesn’t bring much to the table outside some pretty nice still shots of each character with a possible death in the background.  Recall THE END is a more generic piece of soft rock.  It has an interesting animation sequence but you’ll likely not feel it’s worth listening to more than once.  That is, until you get to the end of the series.  There are some fairly useful interesting foreshadowing parts in it but it’ll likely be more difficult than not to spot them until they pass.

Despair arc has Kami-iro Awase from Binaria as its opening and Zettai Kibo Birthday (Megumi Ogata) as an ending.  Kami-iro Awase is very much a different piece than Dead or Lie.  It’s a lot softer and less intense.  Which makes sense given the pacing of the Despair arc.  Probably the most unusual aspect of this opening is its choice in palette.  It ends up changing at specific points in the season to reflect the tone and narrative progression.  It’s quite interesting and worth watching each episode to spot the changes and how the opening impacts your mood for each episode.  Zettai Kibo Birthday ultimately starts off making sense and just goes further and further from understandable as time goes on.  It’s upbeat and shows the 77th class in happy times.  I get there’s a reference to the Danganronpa 2 narrative in it but it ultimately gets the feeling of being quite out-of-place by the end.

I’ve tried by the subbed and dubbed version of this series.  The subbed version retains a strong cast and probably the same recognizable voice actors and actresses you heard before.  Well, except Monokuma.  Actually, there’s very, very little Monokuma.  TARAKO took over from Nobuyo Oyama due to Oyama’s health issues.  Regardless, this is the same series which specifically asked for voice actresses for Sonia Nevermind and Peko Pekoyama.  The team has a pretty strong idea over what they want and they generally do quite well with it.  Conversely, the characterization and dubbing choices for certain characters (Enoshima and Tengan are the most glaring) may leave you confused if you chose the dubbing route.  Additionally, the choices in voice for the characters becomes awkward as they use phrases which don’t always feel the most natural for the situation.

Synergy

The Danganronpa Future arc focuses on pushing a narrative.  It’s a thriller which completes the events with Hope’s Peak.  So everything naturally gravitates to that.

Conversely, the Despair arc…really doesn’t have much synergy.  There are episodes here and there which will focus on specific aspects which they want to provide further illumination.  But then they don’t really tie in together too well until Enoshima walks in and starts pushing certain aspects towards her plan.  Then things start to converge a little.  But even then it remains a bit scattered and confused throughout.

Why to Watch

If you’ve played Danganronpa games and loved them, come right in.  I think it’s as simple as that.  The series aims to answer some questions left throughout Danganronpa 2 as well as tie them closer to the original game’s narrative.  It closes out the time with Naegi and company while providing a new thriller narrative.

Why Not to Watch

It’s really a case of just saying the opposite as the above…walking in with no knowledge of the Danganronpa franchise might not work out too well.  Alternatively, if you liked the games but like them because you could learn a lot about each character…that won’t happen here.  Really, that’s about it.  This series will likely find a niche around its fans and won’t have wide striking appeal outside it.

Personal Enjoyment

The Danganronpa games are probably my second favourite game series.  Only the Zero Escape franchise edges it out.  I’ve always been hoping for a good animation from the series for a while.  So I’ve walked in with a lot of hope.  The thriller genre is one of my soft spots…so the Future arc gets a lot of love from me.

Summary

Danganronpa 3 is pretty much an extension of the games.  It’s a love letter to fans: we’ve had a good run with our Hope’s Peak narrative.  But it’s time to close up and move on.  Kodaka and his team put every idea they had left for that continuity into one place.  It ends up scatterbrained and a little lost at times but ultimately pushes exactly what he wants to say.  Some issues with logic and focus do hamper it a bit.  But this is a watch if you know the continuity to date and want one more trip to the same world.

Overall Rating

Danganronpa 3 has a 7.05/10 for me.  Given I use 5 as average, this is a pretty solid ranking and actually comes close to how I’ve felt about other “solid” series.  Anybody who wants one last lap with the Hope’s Peak absolutely should watch it.

The strongest aspect of this series is its gripping narrative.  Danganronpa series fans will likely love having another deadly game.  Monokuma Hunter is an incredible idea for 11 episodes.  That said, the series falls apart towards the end (honestly dropping its score by a small amount) and the half of “supplementary watching material” in the Despair arc bog it a bit.  Additionally, the entry fee of “knowing the Danganronpa games” is quite high so keep that in mind as people without knowledge of the games will likely end up lost.

Review: Boogiepop Phantom

Please, if you see this individual, just don’t run. You’ll only make yourself tired.

Background

The Boogiepop franchise is an interesting oddity: it is a fairly large and expansive set of light novels in Japan but never really crossed the ocean or anywhere else.  The novels have sold over 2 million copies in Japan in 2000.  That’s quite a large number given the time.  In a much larger market (and I mean much larger), everything Haruhi has sold a “mere” 8 million.  I know that sounds like a lot, but when you consider the cultural impact Haruhi has, you get a sense of how important Boogiepop is to the light novel landscape.  In fact, it’s sometimes argued that the light novel trend originated from Boogiepop.

What followed was a foray of this franchise into the anime landscape.  MADHOUSE, pretty much a household producer name (Chobits, Death Note, Monster, Paranoia Agent, Trigun…they’ve got a long list of greatest hits), took it upon themselves to bring the franchise’s unique narrative style (more on this later) to the television screen.  And Boogiepop Phantom is the result.  The studio went to Takashi Watanabe for direction.  He showed success in the Slayers franchise and would later tag his name to many other projects (He became part of the Shakugan no Shana franchise as the director and Death Note as a storyboard writer).  For sound they asked the prolific Yota Tsuruoka to step in.  He also has a massive resume today.  Top billing probably goes to the Clannad franchise but you come real close to saying he’s done pretty much every anime you know.

Story

Okay.  Let’s start off with this: you won’t fully understand much of the main story in Boogiepop Phantom without reading two light novels first: Boogiepop and Others and Boogiepop at Dawn.  The anime connects the two events and concludes the events of the former.  Instead of a traditional description of the back story, I’ll explain what happened before to a level where one can understand the events.

Nagi Kirima, a schoolgirl, grew at an abnormally fast rate and was dying as a result.  The hospital admitted her and tried to take care of her and her condition.  Shinpei Kuroda, an agent for the Towa Organization, befriended her.  He went behind the organization’s back and administered a drug to Kirima to prevent her from growing at abnormal pace.  The organization executed him soon after.

Dr. Kisugi, a resident general doctor, found remains of the Towa Organization’s drug.  She tested it on rats and found it created incredible powers in the subjects.  So she did the natural thing and tried it on herself.  Naturally, things go sideways and she becomes a composite human.  Composite humans are kind of nuts most of the time and she becomes a mass murderer, killing strong-willed girls because she was addicted to their fear.  Kirima, investigating the murders, found her and with the aid of Boogiepop, the whispered “angel of death”, killed the insane doctor.

A monster named Manticore, escaped one month ago.  It is a failed clone of a highly evolved alien, Echoes.  Echoes, sent by its race to elvaulate humans, monitored earth and could only repeat what was said to it as a way of limiting its power.  The Towa Organization captured it and tried to clone it…unsuccessfully.  That created Manticore.  Anyways, Manticore killed a normal schoolgirl named Minako Yurihara and assumed her identity.  During this time, another school student named Masami Saotome discovered this switch and, instead of killing Saotome, struck a deal with him: the two would addict students to an addictive drug named Type S which would enslave the user to the distributor of the drug.  Then Manticore would eat the individuals for substanance once the experiment concluded. Echoes the Towa Organization to find the Manticore and met Kirima, who at this point is very much aloof and on the outside of traditional society.  Saotome and Manticore, realizing they are being investigated and chased, set a trap for them.  Echoes is critically injured in the fight and, in a final attempt to get rid of the fiend, turns itself into a pillar of light.  The pillar destroys Manticore with the assistance of Boogiepop and Saotome, having fallen in love with Manticore, kills himself by jumping into the pillar.

The events of Boogiepop Phantom deal with the events arising from the pillar of light.  One month after the fight, the entire city is covered in a strong electromagnetic field and a large aurora.

This is really as far as I can describe the narrative without giving anything away.  But I can describe the narrative style.  The light novels take a vignette approach to the narrative and show you a very short story focusing on one character.  Then it’ll shift its focus in the next section.  And then another character.  And so on and so on.  Boogiepop Phantom continues this tradition; every episode follows a specific character and follows their adventure through the supernatural events that overtake this unnamed city.  Each character has their own troubles and some react more positively than others to the situation.  The grand sum of all these side stories is a greater narrative that is not directly created and a climax that is not directly built until it reveals itself to us all.

And I love every second of it.  This form of storytelling may feel a little meandering and disoriented at times but they effectively tell a narrative in a unique manner.  But why do this?  It makes the narrative even more interesting through the mystery.  This occurs in multiple regards.  First and foremost is the anime’s main narrative.  We are treated to a shot of the pillar of light mentioned above.  It knocks out all the electronics in the entire city for a second before everything restarts as if nothing happened.  That seeds the question “how is this important?”.  And this question slowly rises and creates further questions as the narrative progresses.  This pull is a major driving force of the narrative.

Second in mystery is the interrelation of each narrative.  Virtually every story connects to another.  For example, there is a creepy guy in episode 1 who seems mostly perverted.  The next episode focuses on him and what is happening to him.  There is very little waste in this regard with only a couple of episodes focused on events that will not drive questions or imply certain answers.  This seemingly tangential narrative begins pushing the viewer in certain directions and will feed the first mystery I listed above.

Also, eating bugs. That’s relevant.

Finally, each character presents their own mystery.  Each character you see is, at the core, a fairly blank slate.  A few will be recurring from the light novels but largely this is an original cast.  And after a few episodes you’ll know they all largely have deep-seeded mental issues in addition to their odd behaviour.  Part of the mystery and attraction then becomes why this character acts this way in addition to what happens to them.   In that regard, the psychology becomes a major aspect of the anime and the characters’ intentions become a major driving force.

The anime borders bleak and depressing at times.  One of the major aspects of this anime is the negative influence of the supernatural; the fallout of the pillar of light is almost entirely negative.  Many episodes end of a depressing note and one managed to break my heart completely before the first half the episode ended.

Interestingly, this bleak tone also wraps into a slight horror aspect in the anime.  Boogiepop Phantom is hard to define with genres and most oft for the horror label.  It isn’t entirely hard to see why as many character aspects are unsettling at best.  See the picture above of a guy eating a yellow spider with intense determination.  Uncertainty plays its way into many aspects and creates the same unsettling tone.  The body count seems unusually high too with some fairly messy deaths.  I’d personally describe the anime as more psychological than horror but these aspects certainly commonly attribute themselves to the horror genre.

What is probably the most impressive aspect of Boogiepop Phantom, for all the comments I’ve made above, is the ability to drive home focused messages.  The characters often face similar root issues and their inability to influence such a problem becomes a key fatal flaw.  I won’t go into much detail here but the topic of change, escapism, and loss are major discussion points of the anime.

I think one’s love for this anime can be probably described in a major aspect of the narrative: asynchronous.  Many time cards are shown to assist in the understanding of when and where each event happened.  Many find this type of non-linear narrative annoying and frustrating.  Those who do will absolutely lose their mind watching Boogiepop Phantom as the same event’s outcome reflect through the eyes of many different individuals.  Those that aren’t likely will find the anime entertaining and enjoyable.

Characters

As mentioned previously, the narrative takes a vignette form.  Virtually every episode will introduce a new character (and some with multiple introductions per episode), give them a full history, and then end their arc.  This makes it pretty much impossible for me to discuss the characters as I traditionally do.

What I will say however is that the character roster is deep, round, and varied.  One of the greatest aspects of the anime is the strong ensemble cast; motivation, characterization, and result vary greatly.  This depth and broadness plays in an incredible manner as many viewers will find their own issues reflected onto them.  I find this even more meaningful in today’s world where the topic of escapism via medium is becoming larger and larger.   In many regards, the darkest aspects of such topics will come out.  One could read it as a partial deconstruction as it reflects how these traits and supernatural events don’t mix…at all.

To some level, I suspect most viewers will find a character to attach themselves to.

Animation

One will notice the “washed out” palette right away.   The entire world is painted in brown, grey, and black to a large degree.  Many shots are night shots.  It’s not like this is just an unconscious choice either as the final episode takes this out completely and gives an episode in traditional anime colours.  The second effect will be the faded and faux projector effects to the border of the screen.  While both are intentional for reasons you’ll likely figure out later in the anime, they are very interesting effects to the animation and will make it stand out in your collection because of the dull colouring.

A major aspect that really intrigues me about Boogiepop Phantom is the fairly realistic character design in animation.  Anime has a large tradition of having characters with outrageous hairstyles and hair colour.  Boogiepop Phantom averts that nearly completely.  For the most part hair colour, hairstyle, and eye colour will reflect what one would expect in any given high school.  Few anime avert these traditional tropes this completely and will stand out for this reason as well.

Now, the above comes as both a positive and a negative though.  On the positive, it is unique.  Extremely so because anime loves utilizing unusual hair colours and styles to their largest effect.  However, I will also note that it becomes sometimes difficult to separate and distinguish characters.  On first view, I didn’t make every connection possible because I often visually identify characters…in particular, the last episode when the colour scheme becomes more vibrant.

The animation can be brutal at times.  What little combat exists is done swiftly.  Action is fast paced but short-lived.  And this isn’t even going to the horror aspect of the anime which can be very, very graphic.  One particularly gory scene has body parts of a recently killed individual.  And the body parts shift during transportBlood rarely appears in the anime but when it does it’s used to its most unsettling effect.  And common jump scares with utterly creepy characters are utilized at least once.

Uh…yeah.

 

One complaint I’ll lob at the animation is its love of characters facing away from the camera.  Action will typically occur but in a 2000 anime, it can get distracting when characters don’t face the camera.

Sound/Music/Voice Actors

I mentioned before that the sound director, Yota Tsuruoka, has an extremely prolific career and has led major anime sound.  He makes absolutely no mistake here.  The soundtrack to Boogiepop Phantom is incredible.  I think for about 9 of the 12 episodes I have a note regarding the use of sound editing or effective background music.  It is electric or techno at its core but it is top-notch.  They punctuate scenes extremely well and will set the tone in regard to mystery, action, horror, climax, and anything in between.  I’m amazed at how many of the soundtracks made their way into my favourites.  If you’re on the border, please watch Boogiepop Phantom purely for this.  I don’t know any other anime which utilizes so many different effects and subtle shifts (such as those in conversation loudness) to such an effect.  Even the void of white noise is utilized (though given that Tsuruoka worked on Lain, this isn’t a huge shock).

The opening, Evening Showers, feels a bit out-of-place.  In fact, I think the entire opening is a bit odd as a selection since all it does is introduce the primary characters.  Though given the anime, I can kind of see why.  It still feels dated by at least 15 years from production though…so today it feels fairly old.   The closing, Mirai Seiki Maruhi Club, plays a much more integrated role and feels much more appropriate as a theme for the anime overall on most occasions.

The anime’s subs and dubs are both fairly effective.  Dubs primarily consist of a “greatest hits” of the ’90s in the primary and important characters.  Crispin Freeman, Rachel Lillis, and Lisa Ortiz all make appearances.  I have a slight preference to the sub with exception of one character (Saki Yoshizawa) but I think both are possible options.  My suggestion is probably pick whichever you like more.  A major issue in either language is the number of voice actors though…there certainly wasn’t enough of a budget to offer top billing voices for every character and some in both languages are a bit lacking.

Synergy

I think mystery and psychology holds the anime together.  It pulls together character design, art choices, and music.  The pull of what’s happening in story and to each character causes you to come in.  Each of the above elements enforces that and pushes you along that direction.  The depth of the character’s perspective and horror elements keep the episode sharp and punctuated.  And you leave with a question about how each character really became what they are.

Why to Watch

Boogiepop Phantom is an anime I could recommend for many reasons.  If you love mystery, watch it.  If you want something with a little thinking involved and won’t lose its narrative novelty on first pass, watch it.  If you love psychologically interesting characters…you know what I’ll say.  What it comes down to is the fact that Boogiepop Phantom is great at what it intended.  The characters with backgrounds have unique and interesting reasons for their existence…though sometimes flimsy.  The sound editing is amazing.  Suspense and tension all work.

Let’s just leave it at this: if you liked any of the positives in the full review, watch Boogiepop Phantom.  Or, inversely, look below and if you don’t see a reason to NOT watch, watch it.  I mean, all subbed episodes are available legally on YouTube and two dubbed episodes exist.

Why Not to Watch

The problem with the “Why to Watch” section, of course, is that this also implies a quite unfortunate inverse situation…this anime isn’t good if you aren’t interested in its primary elements.  This anime, at best, has limited action.  If you want that, you’re out of luck here.  If you want something uplifting and positive on a continual basis, it isn’t going to happen.  If you want to follow a single character, this is the furthest thing from.  Heck, if you like vibrant colours, this isn’t going to happen.  If you don’t want a little background work to do first (or just read the above comment in the story section), you should move on unless you want to lose out on part of the narrative.  None of these points work out well for the anime though, again, it seems there is little focus here to begin with.

Personal Enjoyment

I think I was born to watch this anime.  It contains virtually everything I want and doesn’t have things I don’t want.  I love psychologically heavy anime.  Introducing characters every episode made a lot of fun as it let me explore more characters than most anime let me.  I’m not sure there’s a better way to describe it…the anime and I get along very well in focus.

Summary

Boogiepop Phantom is anime set out to continue its unique narrative style in animated form.  And in that regard, it does that very well.  It uses a vignette style narrative to follow a story and connect two of its light novels.  Heavy on psychology, suspense, mystery, and character mentality sharing, it emphasizes the key points of the light novels.  Viewers interested in these points will have a great experience I believe.  Conversely, having no interest in these traits will make the anime tedious at best.

Overall Rating

Boogiepop Phantom ended with 7.89/10 for me.  Given I use 5 as average, this ranks as a great anime and it currently ranks one of my favourite overall.  The single number may not reflect it but Boogiepop Phantom is one of the most interesting and unique anime I know of and highlights a major flaw in using a single value to reflect quality.

The show highly excelled in most regards but had its highest score in characters.  There is a strong and diverse cast of characters to understand and learn.  Many change within the span of a single episode to reasonable levels.  The only stat below a 7 out of 10 is music and vocals.  This again reflects a major limitation as this number entitles the incredible background music but also the voice actors who do a good but not exceptional job.